Bonapartism (epithet)

Bonapartism (Epithet)

Bonapartism (epithet)

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For supporters of the dynastic claims of the Bonaparte family, see Bonapartist.


Bonapartism is often defined as a political expression in the vocabulary of Marxism and Leninism, deriving from the career of Napoleon Bonaparte. Karl Marx was a student of Jacobinism and the French Revolution as well as a contemporary critic of the Second Republic and Second Empire. The term Bonapartism is often used to refer to a situation in which counter-revolutionary military officers seize power from revolutionaries, and then use selective reformism to co-opt the radicalism of the popular classes. In the process, Marx argued, Bonapartists preserve and mask the power of a narrower ruling class.

Marx saw both Bonaparte and his nephew Napoleon III as having corrupted revolutions in France in this way. Marx offered this definition of and analysis of Bonapartism in "The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte," written in 1852. In this document, he drew attention to what he calls the phenomenon's repetitive history with one of his most quoted lines: "History repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce."

A Bonapartist regime appears to have great power, but only because there is no class with enough confidence or power to firmly establish its authority in its own name, so a leader who appears to stand above the struggle can take the mantle of power. It is an inherently unstable situation where the apparently all-powerful leader is swept aside once the struggle is resolved...
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